Veteran LAPD cop Detective Matt Hallet (Darren McGavin) and his young partner Doug Baker (Michael Cole) begin investigating serial mutilation murders of young gay men in the Los Angeles area.
Hallet is a liberal-minded sort even after decades on the job. His partner is a homophobe of near epic proportions and only does his job as a reflex. He feels nauseated about seemingly every aspect of the case. Hallet puts up with it until he thinks it is hurting the investigation.
Following up the leads across a community well-versed in the art (one necessitated by regressive laws) of keeping secrets a picture emerges of the prime suspect - a burly cowboy-type nicknamed 'Tex'.
By the time that picture is in focus four men are dead and there is another very different suspect. Hallet and Baker have to cross-reference everything all over again on the off-chance they missed something useful.
The casting is only slightly against type. Darren McGavin was a very masculine type of actor who played uber-macho private detective Mike Hammer in the ultra-conservative 1950s. Michael Cole portrayed a hippie undercover operative on The Mod Squad. You'd think the older macho actor would be the homophobe rather than the young hippie icon.
The maturity of that theme explored alongside the mystery invites the viewer to examine judgments of people by previously ingrained perceptions.
A lot is going on in the various character arcs each moving to different degrees. Where there is any perceptible movement at all is a starting point for a realistic character study as change is the one constant in everything.
The immediate unsubtle hint that what we are watching is from 1974 is the dress and physical appearance of the cast. The wardrobe suggests mass color-blindness. The hairdos appear to have drawn inspiration from the contents of vacuum cleaner filters. The nearly ever-present temptation is to ask each of them if they looked in the mirror before they left for work.
Then there is the attitude of the character portrayed by Michael Cole. Beyond his homophobic slurs he questions his own decision to allow his wife to take a job.
But aside from that what is shown is, politically speaking, decades ahead of it's time.
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